The Future of Mankind by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., was professor of geology at the Catholic Institute in Paris, director of the National Geologic Survey of China, and director of the National Research Center of France. He died in New York City in 1955. Published by Harper & Row, New York and Evanston, 1959. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Chapter 7: A Great Event Foreshadowed: The Planetization of Mankind
Underlying all the surface-changes of present-day history, the reality and paramount importance of a single basic event is becoming daily more manifest: namely, the rise of the masses, with its natural corollary, the socialization of Mankind. The supreme interest and significance of this process lies in the fact that, scientifically analyzed, it may be seen to be irresistible in two ways: in the planetary sense, because it is associated with the closed shape of the earth, the mechanics of generation and the psychic properties of human matter; and in the cosmic sense because it is the expression and prolongation of the primordial process whereby, at the uttermost extreme from the disintegrating atom, psychic force is born into the Universe and continuously grows, fostered by the ever more complicated grouping of matter. Projected forwards, this law of recurrence makes it possible for us to envisage a future state of the Earth in which human consciousness, reaching the climax of its evolution, will have attained a maximum of complexity, and, as a result, of concentration by total ‘reflection’ (or planetization) of itself upon itself.
Although our individualistic instincts may rebel against this drive towards the collective, they do so in vain and wrongly. In vain, because no power in the world can enable us to escape from what is in itself the power of the world. And wrongly because the real nature of this impulse that is sweeping us towards a state of super-organization is such as to make us more completely personalized and human.
The very fact of our becoming aware of this profound ordering of things will enable human collectivization to pass beyond the enforced phase, where it now is, into the free phase: that in which (men having at last understood that they are inseparably joined elements of a converging Whole, and having learnt in consequence to love the preordained forces that unite them) a natural union of affinity and sympathy will supersede the forces of compulsion.
It has become very difficult, in the world’s present state of upheaval and distraction, to form any idea of the significance of what is going on except, by rising above the individual level. So many opposing forces (ideas, passions, institutions, peoples) meet and clash around us that to the thinking person it may well appear that the human ship is rudderless in the storm. Are we going ahead or astern, or are we simply hove-to? No means of telling while we remain at sea-level: the waves hide the horizon.
I can see only one way of escape from this state of uncertainty which threatens to paralyze all positive action: we must rise above the storm, the chaos of surface detail, and from a higher vantage-point look for the outline of some great and significant phenomenon. That is what I have tried to do, and it has led me to accept, however improbable they may appear, the reality and the consequences of the major cosmic process which, for want of a better name, I have called ‘human planetization’.
Despite appearances and a certain overlapping due to the vastness of the subject (as we draw near to the Whole, physics, metaphysics and religion strangely converge) I am prepared to maintain that what I have to say does not anywhere go beyond the field of scientific observation. What this essay claims to offer is not philosophical speculation but an extension of our biological perspective -- no more, and no less.
1. An Irresistible Physical Process: The Collectivization of Mankind
We might suppose, if we set out to examine the state of things on the morrow of the most fearful convulsion that has ever shaken the living stratum of the Earth, that we should find the soil mined and fissured to its depths. So great a shock must surely have exposed all the points of weakness, unloosed all the forces of dispersal and divergence and left Mankind shattered within itself. This is what we might expect to find.
But instead of this state of universal ruin, and if we disregard the psychological haze of fatigue and resentment which, as I shall show, is only a passing phase, what do we actually see?
Geographically, since 1939 a vast expanse of the earth, the region of the Pacific, hitherto on the fringe of civilization, has for practical purposes entered irrevocably into the orbit of industrialized nations. Mechanized masses of men have invaded the southern seas, and up-to-date airfields have been permanently installed on what were until yesterday the poetically lost islands of Polynesia.
Ethnically, during the same period, there has been a vast and pitiless confusion of peoples, whole armies being removed from one hemisphere to the other, and tens of thousands of refugees being scattered across the world like seed borne on the wind. Brutal and harsh though the circumstances have been, who can fail to perceive the inevitable consequences of this new stirring of the human dough?
And economically and psychically the entire mass of Mankind, under the inexorable pressure of events and owing to the prodigious growth and speeding up of the means of communication, has found itself seized in the mould of a communal existence -- large sections tightly encased in countless international organizations, the most ambitious the world has ever known; and the whole anxiously involved in the same passionate upheavals, the same problems, the same daily news. . . . Can anyone seriously suppose that we shall be able to rid ourselves of habits such as these?
No; during these six years, despite the unleashing of so much hatred, the human block has not disintegrated. On the contrary, in its most rigid organic depths it has further increased its vice-like grip upon us all. First 1914-1918, then 1939-1945 -- two successive turns of the screw. Every new war, embarked upon by the nations for the purpose of detaching themselves from one another, merely results in their being bound and mingled together in a more inextricable knot. The more we seek to thrust each other away, the more do we interpenetrate.
Indeed, how could it be otherwise?
Confined within the geometrically restricted surface of the globe, which is steadily reduced as their own radius of activity increases, the human particles do not merely multiply in numbers at an increasing rate, but through contact with one another automatically develop around themselves an ever denser tangle of economic and social relationships. Moreover, being each exposed at the core of their being to the countless spiritual influences emanating from the thought, the will and the passions of all their fellow-creatures they find themselves constantly subjected in spirit to an enforced rule of resonance. It must surely be clear that, under the pressure of these relentless factors -- relentless because they are a part of the deepest and most generalized conditions of the planetary structure -- there is only one way in which the tide can flow: the way of ever-increasing unification. In speculating on the earthly destiny of Man we are accustomed to say that in the ultimate future nothing is certain, except that a day must come when our planet will be uninhabitable. But for those who are not afraid to look ahead, another thing awaits us that is no less certain. As the Earth grows older, so does its living skin contract, and even more rapidly. The last day of Man will coincide for Mankind with the maximum of its tightening and in-folding upon itself.
I know that to see determinisms everywhere in history may be to over-simplify and is certainly dangerous. Every so often authoritative voices are raised protesting that there is no fateful significance in the rise of the masses, or the leveling of classes or the growth of democracy. Where details and modalities are concerned, these defenders of individual liberty are often right. But they go astray, or will do so, if in their proper spirit of opposition to everything that is passive and blind in the world they seek to close their eyes, and ours, to the over-riding super-determinism which irresistibly impels Mankind to converge upon itself.
Whether we like it or not, from the beginning of our history and through all the interconnected forces of Matter and Spirit, the process of our collectivization has ceaselessly continued, slowly or in jerks, gaining ground each day. That is the fact of the matter. It is as impossible for Mankind not to unite upon itself as it is for the human intelligence not to go on indefinitely deepening its thought! . . . Instead of seeking, against all the evidence, to deny or disparage the reality of this grand phenomenon, we do better to accept it frankly. Let us look it in the face and see whether, using it as an unassailable foundation, we cannot erect upon it a hopeful edifice of joy and liberation.
2. The One Possible Interpretation: A Super-organization of the Matter around Us
To understand the significance of the world forces of collectivization, and what it is that they so imperiously demand of us, we need to look down from a great height and contemplate, in their widest, most general aspect, the organic relationships linking consciousness and complexity within the Universe.
It would seem that Man, observing it with curiosity, has always been aware of the law of compensation whereby, in every circumstance of nature, the most highly spiritualized souls are associated with the most corruptible and intricate bodies. But it has remained for modern biology and biochemistry to disclose this contrast, which lay observation could do no more than perceive, in all its persistence and sharpness. We marvel, in the light of recent developments of microscopic and chemical analysis, at the formidable edifice of atoms and varied mechanisms which is found to exist in living creatures, the more living they are. How has it happened that, faced by this constant balance between physical plurality and psychic unity, we have been so slow to grasp the possibility of a physical link of causality connecting them? Hints of the existence of such a link are today beginning to crop up everywhere in scientific works. Let me venture, in a schematic and personal way, to interpret this line of inquiry which, explicitly or by implication, is gradually attracting the notice of philosophers and scientists.
Before doing anything else we must dismiss from our picture of the world the factitious barrier which, to ordinary perception, separates the so-called inanimate corpuscles (atoms, molecules, etc.) from living corpuscles or bodies. That is to say, we must assume, on the strength of their common behavior (multiplicity in similarity) that all, in their varied degrees of complexity and magnitude, are manifestations of a single, fundamental, granular structural principle of the Universe -- simply larger or smaller particles.
And having done this let us postulate in principle that consciousness (like such phenomena as the variation of mass according to speed, or radiation as a function of temperature) is a universal property common to all the corpuscles constituting the Universe, but varying in proportion to the complexity of any particular molecule: which amounts to saying that the degree of psychism, the ‘within’, of the different elements composing the world will be small or great, according to the place of the element in the astronomically extended scale of complexities at present known to us.
The effect of this double modification is to transform our perception of things. Hitherto, in the eyes of a Science too much accustomed to reconstruct the world on one spatial axis extending in a line from the infinitely small to the infinitely great, the larger molecules of organic chemistry, and still more the living cellular composites, have existed without any defined position, like wandering stars, in the general scheme of cosmic elements. Now however, simply by the introduction of another dimension, a new order and definition become apparent. Traversing the rising axis from the infinitesimal to the immense another branch appears, rising through Time from the infinitely simple to the supremely complicated. It is on this branch that the consciousness-phenomenon has its place and eventually shows itself. There is first a long, obscure stretch which seems dead but is in fact ‘imperceptibly alive’. Then, at the stage of corpuscles reaching a million atoms in their complexity (viruses), we come to the first flush heralding the dawn of Life. Later, after the cell, there is a definite radiation growing richer and more intense with the formation and gradual concentration of nervous systems. And finally, at the extreme end of the known spectrum, comes the thinking incandescence of the human brain.
By this re-ordering of things, not only does Life, despite its extreme rarity and localization in Space, show itself, in symmetry with atomic disintegration, to be a fundamental universal current (the current); not only does Man, with his billions of interacting nervous cells, find a natural, cosmically enrooted place in this generalized physical scheme; but something begins to take shape ahead of Man. Once again we find ourselves confronted by the forces of collectivization.
Owing to an inhibition, inherent in our mentality, which prevents us from looking squarely at collectivity, ‘commonsense’ has long refused to accept any but superficial analogies between the ‘moral or artificial’ sphere of human institutions and the ‘physical’ sphere of organized Nature. Indeed, it is only very recently, and as yet timidly, that sociology has ventured to set up the first bridges between biology and itself. But once we have accepted the general Law of Recurrence linking the growth of consciousness to the advance of complexity within a process of universal evolution, nothing can arrest the logical sequence in which two worlds which we were accustomed to regard as being completely separate are seen to approach and complement each other. We see Nature combining molecules and cells in the living body to construct separate individuals, and the same Nature, stubbornly pursuing the same course but on a higher level, combining individuals in social organisms to obtain a higher order of psychic results. The processes of chemistry and biology are continued without a break in the social sphere. This accounts for the tendency, which has been insufficiently noted, of every living phylum (insect and vertebrate) to group itself towards its latter end in socialized communities. Above all, in the case of Man (the only living species in which the variety, quality and intensity of individual relationships enables the phenomenon to achieve its full extent) it explains the rapid psychic rise accompanying socialization, which takes the following forms:
a the growth of a collective memory in which a common inheritance of Mankind is amassed in the form of accumulated experience and passed on through education;
b the development, through the increasingly rapid transmission of thought, of what is in effect a generalized nervous system, emanating from certain defined centers and covering the entire surface of the globe;
c the growth, though the interaction and ever-increasing concentration of individual viewpoints, of a faculty of common vision penetrating beyond the continuous and static world of popular conception into a fantastic but still manageable world of atomized energy.
All round us, tangibly and materially, the thinking envelope of the Earth -- the Noosphere -- is adding to its internal fibers and tightening its network; and at the same time its internal temperature is rising, and with this its psychic potential. These two associated portents allow of no misunderstanding. What is really going on, under cover and in the form of human collectivization, is the super-organization of Matter upon itself, which as it continues to advance produces its habitual, specific effect, the further liberation of consciousness. It is all one and the same process. And, by very reason of the elements involved, the process cannot achieve stability until, over the entire globe, the human quantum has not merely closed the circle upon itself (as it is doing at this moment, in a penultimate phase) but has become organically totalized.
So what finally lies ahead of us is a planetary arrangement of human mass and energy, coinciding with a maximal radiation of thought -- at once the external and internal ‘planetization’ of Mankind. That is what we are inexorably headed for, in the tightening embrace of the social determinisms. The Earth could more easily evade the pressures which cause it to contract upon itself, the stars more readily escape from the spatial curve which holds them on their courses, than we men can resist the cosmic forces of a converging universe!
And why should we seek to resist these unifying forces which are essentially benevolent? Is it because we are afraid that in the process of super-creation they will render us less human?
The basic characteristic of Man, the root of all his perfections, is his gift of awareness in the second degree. Man not only knows; he knows that he knows. He reflects. But this power of reflection, when restricted to the individual, is only partial and rudimentary. As Nietzsche has rightly observed, although he put the wrong construction on it, the individual, faced by himself alone, cannot fulfill himself. It is only when opposed to other men that he can discover his own depth and wholeness. However personal and incommunicable it may be at its root and origin, Reflection can only be developed in communion with others. It is essentially a social phenomenon. What can this mean except that its eventual completion and wholeness must exactly coincide (in full accord with the Law of Complexity) with what we have called the planetization of Mankind?
Some hundreds of thousands of years ago Consciousness achieved the stage of its own centration, and thus the power of thought, in a brain that had reached the limit of nervous complication: this was the first stage in the hominization of Life on earth.
In due course, after the passage of further thousands or even millions of years, it can, and it must, super-centrate itself in the bosom of a Mankind totally reflexive upon itself.
Instead of vainly opposing or meekly submitting to the creative forces of the planet which bears us, should we not rather let our lives be illumined and broadened in the growing light of this second stage of hominization?
3. The Only Permissible Inward Reaction: A Sense of Evolution
A remarkable change overtakes the process of zoological evolution at the level of Man. Until that point was reached every animal, feebly separated from its fellows, existed largely for the purpose of preserving and developing its own species, so that for the individual life was primarily a matter of propagation. But from the time of Man a sort of internal granulation seems to attack the Tree of Life, causing it to disintegrate at the top. With the dawning of Reflection each conscious unit isolates itself and, one would say, tends increasingly to live only for itself, as though, by the fact of hominization, the phylum were broken up into individuals; and as though, in the hominized individual, the phyletic sense were submerged until it finally vanishes.
It is to this alarming course of psychic decomposition, and at the very moment when it seems to be reaching its crisis, that the prospect of a human planetary fulfillment brings the appropriate remedy. If, as we have shown, the social phenomenon is not merely a blind determinism but the portent, the inception of a second phase of human Reflexion (this time not merely individual but collective), then it must mean that the phylum is reconstituting itself above our heads in a new form, a new ramification, no longer of divergence but of convergence; and consequently it is the Sense of Evolution which, suppressing the spirit of egoism, is of its own right springing to new life in our hearts, and in such a way as to counteract those elements in the forces of collectivization which are poisonous to Life.
That the construction of super-organisms is a hazardous operation (like all Life’s major transactions) is something of which we find ample evidence in the study of animal colonies, or, where Man is concerned, the spectacle afforded by recent totalitarian experiments. We are alarmed by all forms of communized existence, and not without reason, because they seem automatically to entail the loss or mutilation of our individual personality. But may it not be that our fear of a process of mechanization seemingly fatal to our active growth arises simply from the fact that we have left the most important element out of our reckoning? In the foregoing paragraphs I have deliberately, for the sake of objectivity, looked only at the external or enforced aspect of human planetization. Thus far we have taken no account of the internal reactions to be expected of planetized matter. But what happens if we consider the ‘planetizing’ process as applied not merely to a passive substratum but to a human mass inspired with the Sense of Evolution? What we then see is a flood of sympathetic forces, spreading from the heart of the system, which transforms the whole nature of the phenomenon: sympathy in the first place (an act of quasi-adoration) on the part of all the elements gathered together for the general impulse that carries them along; and also the sympathy (this time fraternal) of each separate element for all that is most unique and incommunicable in each of the co-elements with which it converges in the unity, not only of a single act of vision but of a single living subject. But to say ‘love’ is to say ‘liberty’. There need be no fear of enslavement or atrophy in a world so richly charged with charity!
Therefore, provided it be accompanied by a revival of the phyletic sense, the collectivization of the Earth shows itself to be the true instrument, not merely of cerebral super-hominization but of complete humanization. By interiorizing itself under the influence of the Sense of Evolution, planetization (as the theory of complexity would lead us to expect) can physically have but one effect: it can only personalize us more and more, and eventually (as can be demonstrated by following to their conclusion all the successive stages of its twofold demand for wholeness and irreversibility) ‘divinize us through access to some Supreme Center of universal convergence.
But the question arises, will this universal Sense of Evolution (the necessary antidote and natural reaction to the growth of complexity in a world that has reached the stage of Reflexion) come when it is needed? Will it flower in time to ensure that, arrived at the point of super-humanity, we avoid dehumanizing ourselves? Theory may predict its imminent appearance: but have we in fact specific reasons for believing that it will truly awaken at the expected moment in the hearts of our fellow-men?
4. Deeper than Our Present Discords: Mankind in the Re-shaping
Although in terms of its biological, economic and mental determinisms the human earth, emerging from war, may be seen to be more tightly fastened upon itself than ever before, in its other and freer aspects it may give a first impression of growing disorder. As I said at the beginning, a thick fog of confusion and dissension is at present drifting over the world. Indeed one might say that men have never more vehemently rebuffed and detested one another than they do now, when everything drives them closer together. Is this state of moral chaos really to be reconciled with the idea and the hope that we are advancing towards unanimity through the closer contact of our bodies and minds?
Let us look at things more closely to see whether, even in those troubled regions of the heart, there may not be gleams of light heralding the planetization of Mankind.
Traced in broad outline the ‘psychic’ map of the world would show on its surface a mosaic of vertically separated compartments (ethnical, political, religious) whereas in depth a loosening surface, symbolizing class-antagonism, would separate the human mass into two thicknesses over its entire planetary extent. Such is the tangled skein which the war has inevitably thrown into relief. Within these ancient or recent lines of division, the tightening-np of the world could not fail to cause upheaval and explosion in the Noosphere. But what effect has it had in younger and more elastic zones?
A new substance has recently appeared in the heart of the thinking ‘magma’ -- a new element, not yet catalogued but of supreme importance: We might call it Homo progressivus, that is to say, the man to whom the terrestrial future matters more than the present. A new type of man indeed, when we consider that, less than two hundred years ago, the notion of an organic evolution of the World in Time had acquired neither form nor substance in the human mind. When we come to look for them, men of this sort are easily recognizable. They are scientists, thinkers, airmen and so on -- all those possessed by the demon (or the angel) of Research. Let us try to plot their statistical distribution on our imaginary map. The diagram turns out to have some remarkable features.
In the first place, points denoting this new human type will be found to be scattered more or less all over the thinking face of the globe. Although more numerous among the white peoples, and tending towards the lower social class, they will appear, at least occasionally, in every compartment into which the human race is divided. Their emergence is clearly related to some phenomenon of a noospheric kind.
Secondly, some apparent attraction draws these scattered elements together and causes them to unite among themselves. You have only to take two men, in any gathering, endowed with this mysterious sense of the future. They will gravitate instinctively towards one another in the crowd; they will know one another.
But the third characteristic, the most noteworthy of all, is that this meeting and grouping together is not confined to individuals belonging to the same category or having the same origins, that is to say, belonging to the same compartment within the Noosphere. No racial, social or religious barrier seems to be effective against this force of attraction. I myself have experienced this a hundred times, and anyone who chooses can do the same. Regardless of the country, creed or social status of the person I approach, provided the same flame of expectation burns in us both, there is a profound, definitive and total contact instantly established between us. It matters nothing that differences of education or training cause us to express our hopes in different ways. We feel that we are of the same kind, and we find that our very differences are a common armor, as though there were a dimension of life in which all striving makes for nearness, not only within a corporate body but heart to heart.
I believe that these various characteristics can be accounted for in only one way. We have to accept that, accelerated by the successive intellectual and social upheavals that have shaken the world during the past century and a half, a radical process of differentiation and segregation is taking place within the human mass. And it is following precisely the course we would expect: the spontaneous individualization and separation of that which moves and rises from that which remains immobile; the irresistible multiplication and aggregation, over the whole extent of the globe, of elements activated by a (hominized) reawakening of the phyletic sense; the gradual formation and emergence, at variance with most former categories, of a new noospheric zone m which human collectivization, hitherto enforced, is at last entering its sympathetic phase under the influence of the newly manifest Sense of Evolution.
It would seem, then, that the grand phenomenon which we are now witnessing represents a new and possibly final division of Mankind, based no longer on wealth but on belief in progress.
The old Marxist conflict between producers and exploiters becomes out-dated -- at the best a misplaced approximation. What finally divides the men of today into two camps is not class but an attitude of mind -- the spirit of movement. On the one hand there are those who simply wish to make the world a comfortable dwelling-place; on the other hand, those who can only conceive of it as a machine for progress -- or better, an organism that is progressing. On the one hand the ‘bourgeois spirit’ in its essence, and on the other the true ‘toilers of the Earth’, those of whom we may safely predict that, without violence or hatred, simply by biological predominance, they will tomorrow constitute the human race. On one hand the cast-offs; on the other, the agents and elements of planetization.
Peking, 25 December 1945. Cahiers du Monde Nouveau, August-September 1946.